A Winnipeg man has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for a sadistic home invasion that saw a family of four held hostage and tortured for nearly two hours.
Justice officials were seeking a rare life sentence against the now 20-year-old man, saying it’s the only way to condemn his actions and protect society. Defence lawyer Danny Gunn had requested a 14-year penalty, saying it’s too early to give up hope for his client.
Provincial court Judge Rob Finlayson returned to court this afternoon to deliver his decision.
"The facts of this case are so egregious," said Finlayson. "How a human being could contemplate doing these sorts of atrocities to another human being truly boggles the mind."
Still, Finlayson said he couldn’t dish out a life term because he must credit the accused with pleading guilty, along with his youthful age.
The judge also blasted the provincial health system for failing to properly diagnose and treat the man, despite numerous "red flags" that something terrible was about to happen.
"In my view the system failed the accused, it failed the (victim’s) family, and it failed our community," said Finlayson. He gave the man credit for two years of time already served, plus an additional 18 years behind bars.
Although he was 18 at the time, the Free Press is not identifying the man in order to publish details about his involvement with the justice system when he was a youth. That involvement lead to questions about the type of supervision and treatment he received while free in the community and while being assessed.
The four victims -- a husband, wife, 17-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son -- suffered extensive physical and emotional trauma during the October 2010 attack in North Kildonan.
The accused selected them at random after following the daughter home on a city bus as part of his plan to rape, torture and possibly kill people in an attempt "to become infamous," court was told. He made the woman tie up her children and husband with duct tape. He assaulted, terrorized, degraded and sexually tortured them until the father and son finally broke free, overpowered him and held him for police.
Police seized hundreds of computer documents that included references to purchasing a torture kit and praise for well-known serial killers. Police also found images of raped and slain women from a reality website he frequented, stories he downloaded about incest and thousands of images of violent pornography.
"This scenario was worse than a parent's worst nightmare. This offence is unimaginable," Crown attorney Cindy Sholdice told court during a three-day sentencing hearing last month. "The victims are already serving a life sentence of their own. They're living with gaping wounds."
On the final day of submissions, the parents of the invader apologized to the victims and begged the justice system for leniency.
"We can't imagine the unspeakable terror they endured at the hands of our son," began a written statement read aloud in court. "We would give our lives to change the events that occurred in what should have been the safe haven of their home. We pray every day for their healing and hope one day they will feel safe in their home again."
They also vowed to stand by the troubled young man, saying he doesn't deserve the life sentence Manitoba justice officials have requested.
"We ask for mercy from the court. Please give him the opportunity to receive help, to rehabilitate and redeem himself," they wrote. "He is our only son and we feel we have lost him to an illness we don't understand. The sense of loss has shattered the foundation of our existence and has affected every aspect of our lives. We're in a perpetual state of mourning with no real end in sight. Our only child is gone to prison and still has toys in his bedroom."
If he had received a life sentence, the man would have been eligible to apply for parole after just seven years under provisions of the Criminal Code. He's been in custody since October 2010, meaning he could have be freed as early as October 2017. However, he would have remained under strict parole conditions for the rest of his life if he were to have been returned to the community.
With a fixed term of 20 years, the man is eligible for parole after serving one-third of that sentence. However, he will no longer be under any supervisory conditions in the community once the full term expires -- a risk the Crown had called "dangerous guesswork" given his heinous acts and high risk to reoffend.
"I certainly understand the desire for vengeance in this case. But it has no place in the justice system," defence lawyer Gunn said in his submissions last month. "A true measure of a just society is the manner in which we treat those least deserving of our empathy. It's the manner in which we treat the most wretched that makes Canada a great country."
Justice officials say the accused is a cunning, manipulative deviant who will likely resume his quest for criminal infamy if ever released from prison. But Gunn has painted the man as a victim because his desperate cry for help went unheeded.
Gunn has launched a scathing attack on the provincial medical system, saying officials ignored warning signs about his client. He said the ambush could have been prevented.
"I become increasingly frustrated at the signs that were there and the steps that could have been taken," Gunn told court.
The accused was first arrested in April 2010 while walking through the Exchange District carrying a knife and wearing a disguise. He was quickly released on bail, but the incident triggered his first contact with the mental health system and a series of psychiatric evaluations and troubling admissions from the young man about hearing voices and experiencing hallucinations.
In September 2010, he told doctors about following a young woman home from a life-skills class he was taking. He had written in his diary about wanting to kill her, but changed his mind after discovering she lived in an apartment and not a home.The doctor contacted the crisis-stabilization unit and he was hospitalized Sept. 25 at Health Sciences Centre -- but released Sept. 29 when he showed improvement while medicated and claimed he'd made up several stories to seek attention.
"How can he go from homicidal to fine in five days?" Gunn asked in court.
The judge agreed, questioning whether police should have been consulted. But the Crown suggested the invader is ultimately to blame, as he has had a supportive network of family and doctors willing to help him, which he's ignored. They say he has also admitted now to lying about the voices as part of his elaborate plan to set the stage for a possible defence of being not criminally responsible.
The horrific home invasion occurred on Oct. 16.